A Tribe Called…?
Google Earth is a revelation in many ways. Vast tracts of the world can be seen in such accurate detail that you can look at your own house from above; maybe even see yourself catching some rays in the garden if the photo was taken at the right time. Many countries now have Google Streetview, so that one can even see their house from various angles.
The internet has brought the streets and buildings of the world to our own rooms. Even secretive North Korea is unravelled to some extent. It’s possible to see in compelling detail the true hetmit kingdom’s countryside, towns and villages when it is almost impossible to get into the country, unless you pay a few thousand dollars to be chaperoned to sites of with nothing but propaganda value.
The Andaman Islands are a little-known archipelago West of Burma in the Bay of Bengal that now belong to India.
When the British arrived to set up a gaol for people in British India who had a problem with being subjected to autocratic rule, they discovered a number of tribes who inhabited certain islands. Each had their own language. Plato had desribed them as cannibalistic dog-faced people. Not so kind. Jacques Cousteau described the marine life as some of the richest in the world. A nicer sentiment. Even today some tribes are left alone, isolated on their own islands. Some attempts at contact have been made with certain tribes such as the Jarawa. See this video of Indians giveing coconuts as a peace offering.
I can imagine the first meetings between Christopher Colubus or Hernan Cortes in the New World having much the same feel to them.
There are believed to be five main tribes across the Andamans and Nicobars (South of the Andamans). The Shompens on Nicobar, then the Great Andamanese, Jarawa, Onge and the Matrix-esque named Sentinelese. The latter is openly hostile, reclusive and isolated on one island. Therefore contact has never been established with the Sentinelese people. They are considered one of the only Paleolithic tribes surviving without outside contact.
Elsewhere around the world, it is thought that there are still well over 150 uncontacted tribes. In the Brazilian Amazon, there are possibly 63 uncontacted tribes, many more elsewhere in South America and 40-50 on New Guinea Island and parts of the East Indonesian archipelago.
One thing about the expanse of the Amazon that impresses upon me, is the idea that there is a lot we don’t yet know about it. Old Mayan ruins are occasionally discovered deep in the jungle, tribes exist without any contact, completely untainted by world progress, and as a result have evolved separately. Anthropologically speaking it is fascinating, but part of me hopes they will forever remain ignorant of the outside world. They have survived on their own this long without our help.
As always, please support us by downloading our free podcast on iTunes:
Episode 11 delves deeper into language, how it has developed and how many more have died out.